— as Liberia COVID-19 Cases Surge Past 300
By Hannah N. Geterminah and Robin Dopoe, Jr.
As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Liberia increase to 311, authorities of the Ministry of Health have announced that violators of the government-imposed curfew will be required to undergo compulsory testing for the virus.
The ministry’s new regulation comes as Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah complained of persistent violations of health protocols by Liberians, including clubbing, as well as other night-time activities for which people are disregarding the curfew.
Therefore, to end such habit, the ministry said it will soon begin assigning health workers at checkpoints during curfew hours to collect samples of violators for testing — a move intended to enhance the government’s testing strategy.
According to Dr. Francis Kateh, Liberia’s Chief Medical Officer, the new regulation will be strongly enforced with the help of joint security officers assigned at various checkpoints.
“If a commercial vehicle is carrying passengers after the prescribed hour, they will collect samples from everyone on board and the driver will be responsible to produce anyone of the passage who tests result comes back positive,” Dr. Kateh said.
However, it is yet unclear how drivers will be forced to implement the order when they do not have the rights to collect passengers’ data such as phone numbers, and home addresses.
It is also unclear how effective these measures will be enforced as security officers themselves are currently involved in disregarding the health protocols by grouping together without respect for social distancing, and clubbing.
Besides, they have also disregarded the President’s mandates which require enforcement of the compulsory wearing of face masks by everyone in public spaces.
Dr. Kateh added: “If you want to stay beyond curfew hour that is good for us. Your vehicle will be put aside and everyone on board will have their specimen taken for testing. This will be great for us, because the more testing we do, the better to determine where we are going as a country and helps us understand whether we are decreasing or on the increase.
The Liberian chief medical officer further said that drivers’ licenses and all necessary information will be withheld until test results, which take at least two days to produce, are out.
If this might be the case, many drivers might be pulled over by police officers for violating the Vehicle and Traffic Laws of Liberia by driving without license, which is illegal and result in additional penalties.
Therefore, it is yet too soon to say whether drivers, who are the focus of this new regulation, will cooperate or resist. They might likely complain of being targeted, compared to motorcyclists, tricycle drivers, most of who do not have licenses; as well as pedestrians who stay out late beyond the curfew hours.
Defending the strategy, Dr. Kateh said the new technique is introduced as a means of encouraging more testing among citizens adding that “globally, the more people you test, the more confirmed cases you get, so we are also practicing the same down here.”
Liberia record first spike, as restriction eased
As health authority worked out a plan to roll out this new strategy, which technical details are yet to be revealed, Liberia just recorded a major spike of coronavirus cases in a single day. 15 people, exclusively from Montserrado County, Liberia’s most developed and industrialized county, were diagnosed with the virus.
This spike in the country’s COVID-19 cases is the single highest rise in a day since Liberian President George Manneh Weah 11 days ago announced the relaxation of restrictions intended to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
Since then, there have been 62 cases of coronavirus, which Health Minister. Dr. Jallah blamed on the Liberian disregarding of preventive health measures, including social distancing and the wearing of masks.
But for health workers, the flagrant disregard of these health measures by the public became severe after President Weah “bowed to pressure to ease the restriction which required people to be indoor by 3 p.m. instead of 6 p.m.”
Heath workers argued that the current spike is just the beginning as the country will soon experience more than this, due to the premature action of the government to ease restriction, doing little to strengthen the already weak surveillance system.
They further argue that even a small change like the one done by the government increases the virus transmission rates, which is gradually taking effect.
Easing the restriction 11 days ago, the President said the measures became necessary in light of the new global reality and that restaurants, stores selling food commodities, dry goods, building materials and electronic appliances, will be allowed to open, provided they take in 25% of their full occupancy at a time while observing social distancing.
Once the restriction was eased, the roads and marketplaces went back to normal operations — intensely crowed. Also, transport workers, particular motorcyclists, have gone back to normal operation by talking two passengers instead of one announced by the government.
Arguing for easing the restriction, an aide to the President, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the previous tight restriction increase unemployment and poverty rates, as well as a significant increase in commodity prices and decline in the value of the Liberian dollar.
“Whether full restrictions or not, people will still get the virus and died. These are thing you cannot stop. But if we allow the economy to cripple, it will affect us more than the COVID-19. We cannot fight this virus without money, so, the restriction has to be eased,” said the presidential aide.
About the treatment drug that was brought from Madagascar, the Chief Medical Officer said they are doing analysis through clinical trials that require the writing of a protocol that needs to be approved by an ethics body to ensure that whatever is done cannot harm the subject.
He said, “when the testing of the treatment drug begins, people will have to sign waivers so that process is ongoing in terms of when we will start to administer the treatment, that question can be answered by those in the treatment unit.”
Despite the uptick, the country’s number of COVID-19 patients remains low. Of the 311 confirmed cases, 116 are active, 167 have recovered and 28 have died. Bulk of the country’s COVID-19 deaths have occurred in communities, with only 13 and 4 persons dying at other heath facilities and at the COVID-19 treatment centre, respectively.